Nothing says “old” like being called spry.
“We were talking about you the other day,” remarked a younger colleague of mine at work, “and we want to be as spry as you are when we’re your age.” Mind you, I’m 63. I didn’t know whether I should thank her or hit her over the head with my walker.
I thought you had to be 90 or so to be spry! And I’m probably insulting some ninety-year-old somewhere just by making that comment. Have you noticed how younger people always assume anybody older is somehow different? It’s a form of hidden ageism and I’m sure we all practice it.
In my head, I’m somewhere in my thirties to forties. I’m certainly wiser and less impulsive than I was then, but many of my attitudes and opinions are basically the same. Also, I became wiser precisely because of my age and experience. Don’t get too excited–I’m not going to entertain you in this post on just how I got my wisdom. Suffice it to say that good judgment is often a consequence of bad judgment.
I’m sure many of you have been the recipient of ageist prejudice, but it’s a rude awakening when you first encounter it. When I was 46 and new in Dallas, a raffle was held at the hospital where I worked for a “Dinner date with a Dreamboat.” Several of the male residents volunteered to be the Dreamboat and tickets sold rapidly. It sounded like fun and I bought a few tickets myself. I was out of town for the drawing but when one of my tickets was drawn in my absence, the person in charge decided that I would rather have a rapidly donated, used, 13” B&W television set! To make the incident even more disheartening, the television didn’t work.
It was a gradual and sometimes painful emotional process to become comfortable with the invisibility, unconscious exclusion, and stereotyping that comes with age. These days, I can laugh at such remarks as, “you’re on Facebook!” or “my grandmother can’t program her phone either,” or “you’re too old to see this (referring to something sexual online).” As if!
The most jolting was a few years ago when I went to Target to purchase some Pampers for a friend. I asked a salesperson where the diapers were. She looked at me and hesitated, then said, “For . . . . a baby?”
None of these remarks was intentionally hurtful or insulting. In fact, such comments reveal far more about the speaker and our culture than they do about the recipient. We are a culture where youth and beauty are idolized. Experiences, not to be confused with experience, are valued. But younger people beware, you too will grow older.
In the meantime when you’re at work sharing stories with your coworkers and assuming people my age aren’t a part of your world, I won’t even notice you’re excluding me. I’ll be writing, gardening, reading, going to movies, hiking, biking, traveling and having fun with my other spry friends.
I’ll be retired.